This week I had the opportunity to compete in the World University Orienteering Championships near Kuortane in Finland and this is my account of the Middle Distance race.
On a 30 degree summer’s day, in the middle of a Finnish heatwave that has seen the local news plastered with extreme weather warnings, I found myself sitting in a farmer’s shed. In the pre-race quarantine zone, this shed was the only shelter available from the blistering heat as we waited to begin the race. After an hour and a half of waiting I was thankful when my start time appeared on the clock and my name was finally called to begin my race and enter the shade of the forest.
When you first get onto a map in this part of Finland the first thing you notice is the contours. Firstly, they are all over the place. Knolls, depressions, and wiggly lines with levels of detail that we southern hemisphere dwellers can only experience in complex sand dune terrain. Once you start running, the second thing you notice is that nothing sticks out as much as it looks like it should from the map. This is because in this part of Finland it is standard to use a 2.5m contour interval as oppose to the 5m intervals that we are all so used to. This makes all the shapes far more subtle than you would expect, with a feature that might appear to be taller than a person in Australia actually only being a small mound. All this means that the process of “getting into the map” can take a little more time than usual. For me this meant taking the first 2 controls quite easy, not doing much in the way on simplification, and reading most of the features to make sure I was keeping really good contact and understanding the map. Perhaps I should have continued to take it easy because soon after relaxing into things and speeding up I made a mistake to the 4th control as it was hidden down a hillside in a small gully on the far side of a vague flat spur.
Controls 1 to 6 were all standard middle distance controls of a similar length with little route choice and mostly just difficult navigation that required constant contact (as you can see in figure 1). Due to the vague nature of the contours (remember 2.5m contours) and the indistinct vegetation and rock mapping it is very hard to find solid attack points that you can run at from far away (by taking a bearing for example) without risking getting seriously lost and spending a LOT of time relocating.
Figure 1 – Controls 1 to 5
The race changed pace at the seventh control with a fairly long leg, as can be seen in figure 2 below. There was a track option to the right which starts on an indistinct track but this was difficult to find and follow (when they say indistinct track, they mean indistinct). After staying on the indistinct track for a while it feeds on to a fairly major track, finishing up with a tricky entry into the control through green. Then there was another track option to the left with a similar description, which takes you slightly more off the line but has a nicer entry into the control through white with obvious contour detail. Finally, the other option (or the only option, as the Finns would say) was to go straight through the white forest. While in Australia such white forest would not pose a problem, here in Finland the white forest can be quite slow due to the thick and spongey undergrowth and the uneven rocky nature of the ground.
Figure 2 – Controls 6-7
The fastest route, as seen in the 2D rerun clipping below in figure 3, shows that a combination of the track to the right and a bearing through the vague white appears to have been the optimal route choice, or at least the route chosen by the fastest runners on that leg.
Figure 3 – Best route choices for controls 6-7
Following the 7th control there was again a change of pace with one more short control before another longer style leg with some more route choice options around an area of green hashing from controls 8 to 9, as seen in figure 4. Again there appeared to be 3 options on this leg, all based around avoiding the green hashing. The first option was to head to the right passing through a small amount of green then following distinct contour detail and cliffs down towards the control. Similarly, the second option was to head to the left through an even shorter green section before coming around through a rough clearing to the same approach. Finally, the third option was to go more or less straight. While the final option appeared to be the most popular route amongst the top runners the best choice seemed to be out to the left due to the increased runnability, see figure 5.
Figure 4 – Controls 8-9 Figure 5 – Best routes for controls 8-9
The final 7 controls, seen in figure 6, reverted back to a classic middle style with more moderate length legs which required the same technique as those early in the race.
Figure 6 – The end of the course
All things considered this was a fantastic championship race. Physical fitness was very important but without precise and careful navigation many of the fastest runners came unstuck. The terrain is difficult to navigate but not impossible so it makes for a satisfying and achievable challenge. While I didn’t do as well as I might have hoped to, given my injuries through out this year and my lack of experience in Finnish terrain I think that I realistically did as well as I could have. I am grateful for the experience (supported by Orienteering ACT) of running in such a high quality race and I am eager to return to the Finnish forest to improve my fitness and hone my skills in future.